Addiction can really affect the parents of addicts, as well. According to Psych Central, these parents are often plagued with thoughts like, "If I had only been a better parent, maybe none of this would have happened." Addiction is not the parents fault, but a parent can influence their child's life by helping them develop skills to protect against addiction.
#1. Coping Skills
One of the most important goals in treating addiction is equipping addicts with coping skills. If these skills are learned in childhood, it can help them to avoid addiction, as many addicts use drugs and alcohol to cope. A need to self-medicate anger, disappointment, and other difficult emotions is a common reason for using. Learning to cope with a full range of emotions can make children more resilient. Coping skills can be as basic as self-care, including diet, sleep, and exercise, or as complex as learning to differentiate between things we can control and things we cannot.
#2. Social Skills
Studies show that social skills are essential for kids to make friends, do well in school, and cope with life's ups and downs. Those who have not learned to lean on others for support have a greater risk for anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. Talking to your children about other people's feelings, beliefs, and desires help build empathy, which is a fundamental tool for social interaction. This dialogue can begin as early as ages two and three, by describing the way characters on television or in books might feel in a given situation, and how they deal with those feelings. Skills like appropriate eye contact, sharing, taking turns, active listening, and assertive communication can be taught directly, as well as through being a role model.
#3. Life Skills
Many people in drug and alcohol treatment have minimal life skills, such as balancing a checkbook, cooking a basic meal, and washing their own laundry. The lack of life skills shows in these people's confidence and ability to function on a daily basis.
The groundwork for learning life skills can be out into place early on. Schools do not often equip children with real-world skills needed to navigate adolescence and adulthood, and this is largely the parent's responsibility. Parents can help teach their children proper study habits, money management, cleaning their room, staying organized, and creating a daily routine.
#4. Emotional Regulation Skills
Poor impulse control and a need for immediate gratification are often associated with addiction. These qualities are normal at some stages of development, and most children begin to self-regulate without intervention. Those children who show an extreme or persistent lack of self-control are at a higher risk for bullying, academic troubles, and drug and alcohol abuse.
Some studies indicate that self-regulation skills in kindergarten can predict literacy, vocabulary, and early mathematics. These skills are also important for social development. Taking a time out, labeling and validating a child's feelings (both pleasant and unpleasant), and offering positive feedback for appropriate behavior are strategies that can help teach this emotional self-regulation. Harsh discipline, yelling, and spanking do not teach self-regulation. It is also important for parents to consistently set linnets and enforce consequences.
#5. Critical Thinking Skills
Critical thinking encourages children to think for themselves rather than conforming with peer pressure. Schools often teach what to think, rather than how to think. As early as kindergarten, parents can help children develop these skills by asking open-ended questions and working through a variety of possible solutions. After the decision is made, it is often helpful to reflect on that decision, talking about what could have been done differently.
#6. Distress Tolerance Skills
Drug and alcohol abuse can be a result of mismanaged stress. Distress tolerance skills alone will not prevent addiction, but it does empower kids to sit with their emotions, without trying to escape or numb those feelings.
One of the disservices parents can do is getting in the way of their child's learning process, often hovering over them to keep them from getting hurt. This has contributed to a society that values immediate gratification over resilience. By intervening in arguments with friends, or doing a tough homework assignment for them, parents deprive their child of the valuable lesson and the skills to cope with stress. Each small success becomes a confidence booster. Instead, let the kid be a kid. Life is chock full of small to moderate stressors that encourage development and provide a sense of mastery and confidence. To supplest this process, introduce your child to new experiences.
All of these skill sets are gained through a combination of experiences, including school, explicit teaching, and parental role models. If a parent accepts accountability for their own feelings, provides plenty of support without being overprotective, and avoids using alcohol and drugs themselves, they will be in a better position to help their children avoid these pitfalls.